Everett Herald supports graduation requirements in English and math: “Poor attendance, not tests, denying kids diplomas”

The Everett Herald editorial board evaluates the evidence and adds its voice in support of the required English and math graduation tests. Editorials similarly in support of the requirements appeared in the Seattle Times, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Spokane Spokesman-Review, and The Columbian. We wrote of them here and here.

The Herald editorial agrees with suspending the biology test requirement, but points out,

…with the knowledge that there are options for students to retake tests or use alternatives to satisfy graduation requirements, the tests for English language and math aren’t the most onerous barriers to a diploma.

What needs more attention are the difficulties that are keeping some kids from making it to class to learn. (Emphasis added.)

Let’s think about that for a minute. The editorial identifies a critical factor: Although critics of the tests claim that the requirement denies diplomas to otherwise qualified students, that’s not really the problem. As the Herald writes,

…about 81 percent of the class of 2017 have already met all three assessments, and that figure doesn’t include those who may meet the requirement or satisfy an alternative requirement in weeks to come…

At least some who haven’t passed all the tests are still in the process of taking retests or will have taken advantage of alternatives to the tests…

For more students, the hurdle they aren’t clearing are the class credits … earned during high school…

Here’s how it breaks down in Everett.

Of the 1,286 students in the Everett School District’s class of 2017, 70, as of early June hadn’t met the assessment requirements, but many of those were also lacking enough credits to graduate…

And the toughest barrier to earning credits, school officials say, is truancy…

We wrote about Washington’s dismal absenteeism performance earlier this year.  

The OSPI press release states the problem well: 

For the 2015-16 school year, an average of 16.7 percent of students across the state were chronically absent, which is a 0.7 percent increase from the 2014-15 school year.

“Chronically absent” is defined as a student missing 10 percent or more of their school days, equaling 18 days in a year or two days per month. Students who are chronically absent do not perform as well as their peers who show up, and the linkage begins as early as kindergarten.

Students who are chronically absent in kindergarten are considerably less likely to read be able to read at grade-level by third grade. On the same note, chronically absent ninth graders are much more likely to fail at least one core course (math, English, or science). In fact, attendance and failing a core course in the ninth grade are two of the strongest predictors of whether or not a student graduates high school.

“About 21 percent of our students are not graduating high school, and absenteeism plays a huge role in that,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The release notes that Washington recently was cited by the U.S. Department of Education has having the second worst absenteeism problem in the nation.

The Herald is right: Retain the English and math graduation requirement. Those tests measure learning. At the same time, step up efforts to make sure more students are in class, learning.